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Why protect biodiversity? It is not just a question of ethics. Biodiversity provides essential services to human societies. Its evolution is the result of interactions between living beings and their environment. Every human action impacts these natural ecosystems. An ecological emergency has been declared. The time has come to act rather than to observe. Satellite observation of the earth responds to this emergency. It allows us to identify and anticipate weakened areas so that they are no longer affected.

What is biodiversity?

Biodiversity is becoming more and more related to a concept. Yet biodiversity is the essence of life on earth. For this term made up of bio (from the Greek βίος “life”) and the word “diversity” brings together all forms of life on earth. Having first appeared in writing in the mid-1980s, its definition in the Cambridge dictionary is the following : “the number and types of plants and animals that exist in a particular area.” 

Its emergence is closely linked to the worldwide awareness of the urgent need to protect nature. Natural diversity has always been part of human society. Whether they are cultural, aesthetic or utilitarian, natural resources are our raw materials. But above all, we live thanks to biodiversity! It provides us with our primary needs, which are to breathe, to feed ourselves and to drink. But it had to wait for the Natural Sciences and ecology to be recognized. So here is the history of this word, which today has become a leitmotiv.

A late recognition of biodiversity

In 1859, it was brought to light by the naturalist Charles Darwin. His scientific work on the Origin of Species provides the first theory on the origin of the diversity of life. At the same time, many countries were in the midst of an industrial revolution. It was the shift from an economy based on traditional small-scale agriculture to one that valued large-scale mechanized production. This new production-based economy will impact biodiversity. Because it needs natural resources to produce.

Industrial pollution
Mechanised farming

In the 1960s, the alarm bell was sounded. Many scientists were concerned about the ecological crisis caused by human activities. 

Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature

The year 1992 marked a turning point with the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. During this convention the concept of sustainable development was born. It was presented in a text of 27 principles. The first one being “Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature”It was during this summit that the Convention on Biological Diversity was adopted. It linked the issues of sustainable development to those of biodiversity.

Biodiversity at the forefront of the world stage

The preservation of biodiversity has become a global necessity. Because it is our greatest ally. But in order to restore it, an environmental assessment is necessary. This is the subject of the film “A Life on our Planet” by David Attenborough. At the age of 7, he was already a naturalist. His scientific curiosity led him to travel the world in search of remote and wild places. Now 94 years old, he is witness to the degradation of biodiversity. In 2020, only 35% of wild spaces remain on earth. The human has traveled, and settled, across the world. His documentary draws up an alarming report on the natural state of our planet.

The elements, earth, water and air that compose our planet are heavily impacted.

Earth

Half of the fertile land has become agricultural land. These soils are overexploited by intensive agriculture. While it covers 75% of cultivated land, industrial agriculture produces only 30% of the food we eat. To achieve its goals, it consumes fossil fuels and injects chemicals in the soil. Half of the fertile land has become cropland. Moreover, when the tired soil of these monocultures no longer provides food, farmers clear the forests in search of new land. Tropical forests are being cleared for the oil palm monoculture and timber industry. It is not only the trees that are disappearing, but all of their residents. For example, two thirds of the orangutan population has been wiped out in 60 years.

Deforestation by burning for cultivation – Jami Dwyer
Furrows in the ground
Orangutan
Oil palm monoculture

Water

The sea is another natural habitat that is being harmed by the current human lifestyle. Since 1998, the bleaching of coral reefs has been recognized worldwide. This bleaching is due to the corals expelling the algae with which they live in symbiosis. Among the causes of this bleaching, all forms of ecological imbalance are plausible, the greenhouse effect that increases the temperature of the oceans and its acidity, pollution, overfishing etc. Fishing fleets have already eliminated 90% of large fish. Life in the ocean is collapsing.

Coral bleaching – Kelsey Roberts
Watering on intensive crops

Back on the continental surfaces, freshwater species are not spared. Human activities have reduced their size by more than 80%. Urbanization and soil artificialization have an indirect but very impactful effect on freshwater quality. Because the soil has a purifying role on water. Due to its physical and chemical properties, it absorbs and dissolves polluted particles. Its wildlife also acts as a biological filter. Pollution of agricultural origin is certainly the best known. The use of chemical products, fertilizers and intensive breeding add to the slate. In addition to polluting it, intensive agriculture consumes 70% of the water resources

Air

The first indication that the Earth was losing its balance was the warming of the air. In 1950, the UN created the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). More than fifty years later, in 2007, experts agreed that human activities were causing the warming of ocean and atmospheric temperatures. This is because they produce greenhouse gases.

The Frozen Planet team reports on the melting ice in its documentary narrated by David Attenborough. In the Arctic, the summer sea ice has decreased by 40% in 40 years. With its unique ecosystem, Antarctica is also under high surveillance. Its pristine wilderness is one of the most precious regions on the planet.  

Restoring biodiversity

This alarming realization calls for immediate action. The issue of biodiversity is global, as are the actions necessary for its preservation. Coordinated actions that allow the preservation of complex ecosystems. The primary tool needed is to move from observation to supervision and action. Indeed, science allows us to develop an understanding of the problem, we must now move to the systematization of the observation and the precise monitoring of the evolution of the situation. It is in this sense that the use of satellite earth observation data allows a global, coherent and scientific supervision. 

This type of data makes it possible to steer the necessary change and gradually accompany society in its inevitable transformation. We do not need to change the rules of the existing game, we simply need to change the game. Identifying areas under pressure, modeling and predicting the impact of humans on living organisms, but also increasing our collective resilience through the implementation of relevant actions are all objectives that we can pursue without delay. The health crisis is an example of the extent of our capacity to adapt, let us use this capacity to get closer to nature.

It seems to me that the natural world is the greatest source of excitement; the greatest source of visual beauty; the greatest source of intellectual interest. It is the greatest source of so much in life that makes life worth living.

David Attenborough

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